The Vic they have now isn't the original 1866 Victory Theatre that burned down twice, but this one was obviously built early enough to have been renamed for Queen Victoria; probably between 1880 and 1910. It's all gilt and sculpted ceiling ornaments and burgundy velvet. They have a series of summer movies where they roll a screen down in front of the curtain and show a movie and cartoon, and there's free soda and popcorn in the lobby at intermission. I saw "Blazing Saddles" at a Mel Brooks weekend they did a few years ago and it was a lot of fun. So when I saw a poster about them finishing this season with "Back to the Future"... oh hell yes.
It still holds up really well, and isn't even that awkward for an '80s adventure movie. For being all about fightin' Nazis, the Indiana Jones movies make me really cringey now with how much of each film is devoted to celebrating Indy killing brown people. I loved the "Ghostbusters" movies, but really, they could have replaced Sigourney Weaver's character with a parakeet and it would have made almost no difference. Actually, that would have made the second one a lot more interesting; Vigo's not after her baby, he just has Carpathian Mineral Deficiency and wants her fresh cuttlebone! (and hell, the first one too. "THERE IS NO PRETTYBIRD, ONLY ZUUL!" And the Hartz Millet and Honey Treat Man. I am just way too entertained by the idea of "Ghostbusters" with parakeets).
"Back to the Future" has the "Libyan" terrorists straight out of "Team America: World Police," and the embarrassing joke where the middle-class suburban white kid hands Chuck Berry his breakout song, but for the most part it treats its minority characters with respect. The joke where Goldie Wilson decides to run for mayor because of something Marty blurts out isn't funny because it's a black guy thinking about running for office in the 1950s, it's because the audience already knows that he wins; the establishing shots in the 1980s have him stumping for re-election. Lorraine--Marty's mom--is badass. She could really easily have just been the Girl Prize that doesn't do anything in the story, but for most of the movie, she knows what she wants and she goes for it. George does have to step in to rescue her from Biff, but only because she tried to step in to save George from Biff first (and it is really weird that in Good New 1985, they're just like "LOL, oh Biff, you scamp!" when his behavior toward both of them in 1955 is plainly past "bully" territory and edging into the Land of Sociopath). She's a teenage girl in 1955 who smokes and drinks and is implied to mess around with boys on dates, but the movie doesn't shame her or punish her for it. When Marty tries to get on her case for not being a "good girl," she blows him off for being such a square. The humor in Marty finding out that she's wilder than he expected isn't really in LOL GIRL WANTS SEX ISN'T THAT SILLY!, it's in Marty's shock at discovering that his parents were actually teenagers who did teenager things when they were in high school, and his--admittedly understandable--discomfort with the fact that this hot girl who's coming on to him so strongly is his mom. Aaaand then there's that weird part at the dance where she just lets some random guy cut in and does nothing but call for George so that it can be George's Moment, but the movie can't be perfect.
I'd forgotten what a good movie it actually is, though. I grew up in the '80s and '90s; I'm used to stuff I liked as a kid turning out to be not really all that good. I mean... Thundercats. But all the developments in the plot of "Back to the Future" build on ground laid earlier, and most of the things set up at the beginning of the film pay off later. There's almost no piece of dialog that doesn't play into some important piece of character or plot development later. The scene where Marty first finds himself in downtown Hill Valley is excellent at making someplace familiar seem really alien just by little touches like advertising (there's a sign outside the record store about the new releases "16 Tons" and "The Ballad of Davy Crockett") or a clock chiming. (and as an adult, the DeLorean is still awesome, but oh, those vintage Packards and Fords and things that are just there because those are the cars that would be around in 1955 are gorgeous. That scene where they dump the ton of manure on the beautiful old whatever-Biff-drives hurts.) Christopher Lloyd was my favorite actor in the world when I was eight, and he's still good--he plays the role much less hammily than I remember him doing--but it struck me this time around how good Crispin Glover is at playing three different versions of the same character. I was sort of surprised that the score wasn't by John Williams, because it's so good at matching the mood of the scenes. The writing is sharp and witty, but for the most part the things people say and do are believable as things real people would say and do (though I think the "Gimme a Tab. Okay then, gimme a Pepsi Free" bit is probably lost on people born after the movie came out).
What I found really interesting too is how much of that was influenced by seeing it with a bunch of other people. Earlier tonight I just finished watching the DVD recording of the original Broadway cast of "Into the Woods." It's... okay. I liked the first act well enough, but it took me days to get around to watching the second act. I've had the OBC recording on CD for years, and the staging was different than soundtrack led me to imagine. Bernadette Peters especially wasn't as good as I was expecting; she just sort of yells most of her lines in that performance. Partly I need to be in a certain mood to want to listen to "Into the Woods," and I think it loses something not seeing it in person or with other people.
When I saw "Blazing Saddles," everyone sang along to the songs and shouted out all the funny lines five seconds before they came up, and even sort of worked out their own call and answer lines (Half the audience: "Piss on you! Ah'm workin' fer Mel Brooks!" The other half: "Not in the face! ...thank you."). It was like being at a slightly more family-friendly Rocky Horror night. I'd never actually seen the whole thing all the way through, before. It's a sharp, funny movie; I liked the parts I'd seen before. But I wonder if I would have loved it like I did seeing it with a bunch of other people who were really excited to see it. At "Back to the Future," there was a guy a few rows behind me who whistled along with the theme when it started to come up behind a scene, and I was just sort of like "ha ha, people sure like this film!" instead of finding it annoying. The cartoon they played before the movie was a Popeye cartoon from 1954, and I think it seemed a lot funnier because of the way the audience cracked up laughing at jokes that would have just seemed kind of cute on TV. And they just roared and clapped and cheered when George punched out Biff at the end of the movie. I've not seen the movie through all the way through that many times, but I've seen the exciting parts what seems like half a billion times. The climactic scene seems to get a little silly when I watch it on TV and crap keeps suddenly happening to stretch it out, but I had to catch my breath by the time Marty ended up back in 1985. I bring my knitting to movies because I'm more comfortable having something to do with my hands when I have to sit and stare at a screen for two hours, and generally don't stop unless the movie really draws me in. I completely put it down maybe a third through.
Part of it was just the scope of being in the third row looking up at a big screen. But I think a big part of it was just the energy of seeing it with a crowd of people who were really excited to also be seeing it. Humans are pack animals, and I think even when you don't know anyone else in the pack, there's something about doing things with people that makes them more fun.
("The architect's name was Ivo Shandor; I found it in the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. He was also a veterinarian. Performed a lot of unnecessary wing clipping."
...I'm sorry. I'll stop.)